On this date in 1875, President Ulysses Grant contrived a war to steal the Black Hills. George Bush II contrived a war. He said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, but what they really had was oil. The Lakota, or Sioux, had gold and Grant needed to find a way to get it. The gold was in Paha Sapa, the Black Hills, the center of the world for the Sioux. The sacred mountains had already been given to the Sioux in the Treaty of 1868, when the US was defeated by Red Cloud
President Grant was buffeted by the cries of pioneers, settlers, miners, and the military on one side, and by treaty obligations, laws, his own peace policy, and missionaries and citizens concerned about Indians’ rights on the other.
He had sent General George Crook to evict the miners, but not before assembling 169 of them at a place they called Custer Creek to write down their mining claims for such time in the future “when the country shall have been opened.” General Crook then let them scatter back into the hills, making little attempt to stop them. It was clear who the government was working for. Remarkably, the Sioux showed restraint, and not a single act of violence against the miners was reported.
He had met with Spotted Tail, Red Cloud, and Lone Horn in Washington, suggesting they relocate to Oklahoma. Spotted Tail had replied: “You speak of another country, but it is not my country; it does not concern me, and I want nothing to do with it. I was not born there. If it is such a good country, you ought to send the white men now in our country there and let us alone.”
He had convened a council on the White River to negotiate cessation of the Black Hills. That did not go well for him. The Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho arrived with a show of force, 20,000 strong. Their lodges (tepees) covered the plain. Painted and dressed for battle, they were in no mood for discussing real estate. Horsemen charged in formation, firing guns in the air. Crazy Horse refused to even attend, but his envoy danced his horse between the seats of the two sides, proclaiming, “I will kill the first chief who speaks for selling the Black Hills.” The US representatives were lucky to walk away alive.
On this date, November 3, 1875, President Grant convened another council, this one at the White House. The only attendees were his yes-men, his sympathetic cabinet members and military generals: Secretary of State Zachariah Chandler, Assistant Secretary of the Interior Benjamin Cowen, Indian Commissioner E.P. Smith, Secretary of War William Belknap, General Philip Sheridan, and General George Crook. With hearts of gold, they contrived a war that would justify the abrogation of the treaty and the taking of the Black Hills.
Their target would be the Sioux living at large on the unceded lands, theirs by treaty. Their villain would be Sitting Bull. Like the Tonkin Gulf Resolution that led to Vietnam or Colin Powell’s speech to the UN to justify the invasion of Iraq, Grant’s men would leak a false military report to the press. Sitting Bull, in full compliance with the treaty, was described in terms that in later years would be associated with Mosaddegh, Arbenz, Lumumba, Castro, Ydigoras, Bosch, Sukarno, Papandreau, Nkrumah, Guevara, Allende, Manley, Roldos, Torrijos, Aristide, Chavez, and Morales. Sitting Bull was said to be “hostile, lofty, independent, contemptuous, defiant, boastful, scornful, savage, untamable, uncivilized, and disrespectful of white authority.”
Grant’s military plan was to take full advantage of the fact that the Sioux were burdened by women and children. “One thousand men under the command of an experienced officer, sent into their country in the winter, when the Indians are nearly always in camp, and at which season of the year they are the most helpless, would be amply sufficient for their capture or punishment… and to whip them into subjection.”
This led directly to Custer’s Last Stand, the internment of the Sioux in concentration camps, the assassination of Crazy Horse while in custody, the murder of Sitting Bull while in custody, the revenge massacre of women and children at Wounded Knee, the rape of the Black Hills by Homestake Mine, the creation of the Hearst family fortune, the sacrilege of Mt. Rushmore, the Sioux’s legal victory in the US Supreme Court in 1980 that the war was illegal and the Black Hills are rightfully theirs, and their rejection of monetary compensation (now worth over $1 billion) for Paha Sapa—because the Black Hills are not for sale and they never were.